One Day at a Time
I knew it would be difficult for One Day at a Time to surpass season two’s superb examination of Penelope’s mental health, so while I’m not prepared to call “Anxiety” superior to last year’s “Hello, Penelope,” it is undoubtedly a commensurate sequel.
This episode places the action squarely in Penelope’s veterans’ support group, which will never appear on the show enough, IMO. Needless to say, Penelope is not doing well, as illustrated by the series of anxiety attacks she’s been experiencing of late. (I know it’s unlikely Penelope would be allowed to dominate the discussion in a real-life setting, but since this is a TV show, I’m willing to accept this form of artistic license.)
To differentiate between Penelope’s anxiety attack and reality, the color is drained out of the scene, and her manifestations appear to the audience in black and white. It’s a smart move on the show’s part: Since we’re shifting back and forth between the group-therapy scene and Penelope’s episodes, determining what’s real and what isn’t can get confusing.
While Penelope expresses to Pam and the rest of the group her bewilderment over why she’s been experiencing these attacks, once she rattles off all of the factors weighing her down, she recognizes that she’s surrounded by triggers: Her nurse-practitioner board exams are approaching, and she has a “sexually active teenage daughter, a fragile, elderly mother, and a son doing drugs.”
“Oh, honey, you’re a mess,” her pal Jill (Haneefah Wood) good-naturedly observes. Thing is, she’s not wrong: Penelope admits to Pam that her anxiety attacks are “coming on stronger and faster,” though like so many of us with depression and anxiety, she insists that she’s got everything under control.
As Penelope talks, it eventually comes tumbling out that her relationship with Mateo is also a trigger. (Sorry to get selfish here, because I hate seeing Penelope under more stress, but pay attention to those warning signs, girl.) During an evening in, snuggling by the TV, Mateo innocently muses, “I could just stay like this forever.” Right away, Penelope is visualizing her boyfriend announcing that they now have a joint account (a.k.a. a “handcuff account”), he’s moved into Casa Alvarez, and the worst part of all — they have “competent but unspectacular” sex.
Again, I think Jill sums up my thoughts on this situation best: “Not all boyfriends work for all people.”
But the biggest signal that Mateo and Penelope are incompatible is when she discloses to the group that she doesn’t rely on her boyfriend for help when she has her anxiety attacks. That’s Schneider’s job. And, golly, we could all use a Schneider.
It turns out that having a “privileged, hipster, clueless man-baby” for a friend — with nothing better to do all day than mime along to lute music — has its perks. Just as he displayed in “Hello, Penelope,” Schneider continues to be his friend’s best mental-health resource outside of professional therapy. When she suffers an anxiety attack after doing poorly on a practice exam, Penelope texts Schneider a stream of escalating insecurities that would not be out of place in my own message archive (just replace “I’ll never be a nurse practitioner” with “I’ll never be a great mom/great writer/great person” and “grey eyelash” with “grey hairs”).
Schneider deftly implements his specialized Penelope Care Routine: First, via text, he provides an onslaught of dogs in wigs pics and a mascara rec for the eyelash (because he would). This is immediately followed by an IRL visit armed with wet wipes (for Penelope’s inevitable sweats), comforting words, and a hug.
It’s scenes like these that make me so grateful for ODAAT’s existence, because for those of us with depression and anxiety, our treatment does not stop with medication and/or therapy. We would all benefit from a Schneider-level form of support from our loved ones as well.
Knowing that Penelope has Schneider in her corner during these episodes is proof positive of how far she’s come over the past couple of years. However, the stigma of mental illness is still a nasty symptom she has yet to fully challenge. In the first two seasons, Penelope struggled to come to terms with her depression and anxiety, a situation exacerbated by her mother’s narrow-minded attitude toward mental health (Lydia would dismiss her daughter’s support group as her “cuckoo party”).
While Lydia took great strides toward acceptance of her daughter’s depression and anxiety in last season’s “Hello, Penelope,” there remains an undercurrent of humiliation within the Alvarez family. Penelope informs the group that Lydia continues to describe her being on antidepressants as “the great family shame,” which has unwittingly caused a trickle-down effect.
Penelope has adamantly been keeping her mental-health issues a secret from Elena and Alex, a revelation that elicits a collective “Wuh?” from the group. Her greatest fear is that her kids will find out that they’re not being raised by a “stable person,” a mindset that Pam instantaneously shoots down. Penelope’s counselor warns her that depression and anxiety can be hereditary, so the worst thing she can do for her children is pretend that her mental illness doesn’t exist. This leads to a minor freak-out over how her job as a mom is not to bring more stress into her kids’ lives (Justina Machado’s exasperated line reading of how Penelope has a “very calming energy, and I make everyone around me very happy, okay?” is, just, *chef’s kiss*).
Since life can’t always take place in the safe space of group therapy, “Anxiety” brings the narrative back to the Alvarez apartment for the final act. Here, Penelope is forced to confront her deep-seated shame and kick it to the curb once and for all. When Elena undergoes a frightening anxiety attack of her own over her ambition to attend Yale, complete with color-draining effect, a visualization of a hostile Penelope, and an Ivy League a cappella group singing a barrage of insults, her mother leaps into healing mode.
With her daughter now possibly heading down the same path of mental illness (Elena admits this wasn’t the first time she had an episode like this), Penelope opens up to both her kids about her depression and anxiety: “It’s in our family, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Even though I’m ashamed of it.”
But like so much of the harmful mindsets permeating her family that she’s worked so hard to combat, Penelope is now determined that the stigma surrounding mental illness stops with her. The first step? Being honest with her children. The second step? A meditation session with Elena and Lydia. (Eh, technically Lydia is just keeping her daughter and granddaughter company during her rosary prayers; considering her “Amen” sounds a lot like “Om,” she fits right in.)
What Penelope doesn’t realize, because she’s in the thick of this nonstop job we call parenting, is that her tireless efforts to raise Elena and Alex as decent, non-judgmental human beings is precisely why they took her news so well.
That’s on you, Penelope. That’s all you. Well done.
This Is The Rest!
• Yeah, Schneider pronounces “Hola” with an “H,” but he does so in such an endearing manner that I say he should get a pass.